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Avian Jewels of the Western and Central Andes

Colombia

July 1 to 15, 2025
Private Trip Available
Cost: $5,990
Leader: Jose Luna
Group Size: 8
Days: 15

Safari Overview

Discover Colombia, the ultimate haven for bird enthusiasts! Colombia boasts the highest concentration of bird species worldwide, hosting a staggering 20 percent of the world’s total avian diversity within just 0.7% of its landmass. Encounter a vast range of ecosystems, all conveniently situated within a relatively compact area. From lush wetlands to the towering peaks of the Andes, Colombia offers unparalleled abundance and variety of birdlife at every twist and turn. On this avian adventure, not only will you have ample time to commune with nature and interact with captivating wildlife, but you’ll also gain privileged access to the Colombian way of life. This immersive experience will provide insight into the local culture enhancing your bird-focused adventure.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Explore marshes and lagoons teeming with birdlife.
  • Soak in Andean hot springs while watching for high elevation species.
  • Be dazzled by the color, movements, and sounds of cock-of-the-rock leks.
  • Attend a festival of tanagers in the Anchicaya Watershed.

 

Itinerary Updated: October 2023

Private Trip Available



Print Trip
Date Description Lodge Meals
Jul 1 Arrive in Cali, Colombia (known as a branch of heaven to locals). Hotel Guadalajara, Buga D
Jul 2 Birdwatch at the Sonso Lagoon, one of the few wetlands left in Cauca Valley, then ascend the Central Andes. Hotel Quo, Manizales B, L, D
Jul 3 Explore the diverse ecosystems of the Rio Blanco Reserve. Hotel Quo, Manizales B, L, D
Jul 4 Encounter uncommon birds at Owl’s Watch Nature Preserve. Hotel Quo, Manizales B, L, D
Jul 5 Breakfast and bird at a working cattle farm before traveling to 11,000ft. Terminales, Hotel Termales del Ruiz B, L, D
Jul 6 Explore above the tree line at Los Nevados National Park. Terminales, Hotel Termales del Ruiz B, L, D
Jul 7 Travel to Pereira stopping for lunch and birding at Tinamu Nature Reserve. Hotel Movich,Pereira B, L, D
Jul 8 Enjoy howler monkeys while birding at Otun-Quimbaya Reserve. Hotel Movich,Pereira B, L, D
Jul 9 Travel from Pereira to Araucana Lodge stopping at National Grape Park to find the ruby topaz hummingbird. Araucana Lodge, Valle del Cauca B, L, D
Jul 10 Bird along KM 18 in the Western Andes in search of tanagers, plus stop at an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek and a garden with hummingbird feeders. Araucana Lodge, Valle del Cauca B, L, D
Jul 11 Bird the biodiverse Upper Anchicaya and visit Doña Doras in the morning; witness the spectacle of a cock-of-the-rock lek in the afternoon. Araucana Lodge, Valle del Cauca B, L, D
Jul 12 Explore near the lodge, including visits to the hummingbird feeders and fruit plates for up-close bird watching. Araucana Lodge, Valle del Cauca B, L, D
Jul 13 Ride the rails to San Cipriano to explore the pristine forests at the reserve and view an abundance of birdlife. Araucana Lodge, Valle del Cauca B, L, D
Jul 14 Contrast the dry forest rain shadow habitat near Atuncella in the morning with the Rio Bravo wetlands in the afternoon Araucana Lodge, Valle del Cauca B, L, D
Jul 15 Depart for home. B

Our Trip Leaders

Jose Luna

Jose was born and raised in the western Andes of Colombia, and he has been birding since he was 16 years old. Jose was the first guide to join Colombia Birdwatch and has since traveled throughout most regions of Colombia with hundreds of guests from all corners of the world. Jose shines amongst his colleagues for his calm demeanor, friendliness, and proficiency in English, not to mention his ability to find birds.

Detailed Itinerary

A glimpse into our journey

Arrive in Cali, Colombia

Jul 1

Meet your host at the airport and drive to the city of Buga in a private vehicle. If you would like to arrive earlier, we can arrange divergent airport transfers and extra nights.

Sonso Lagoon

Jul 2

Yellow-Headed Caracara
© Christopher Calonje

Start early to take a 15-minute drive to this wetland gem. Sonso Lagoon is one of the only remaining wetlands in the Cauca Valley and is teeming with birds, making it one of Colombia’s best wetland birding locations. Scan the marshes and lagoons that line the Cauca River for fulvous and black-bellied whistling-ducks, roseate spoonbill, glossy ibis, anhinga, herons (little blue, cocoi, and striated), snowy egret, black-necked stilt, and snail kite. We are likely to find wattled jacana, which have a polyandry mating system, meaning females mate with many males within a breeding season. Polyandry is a fascinating adaptation that occurs in less than 1% of birds and is most common among shorebirds.

Other interesting species you might spot include the endemic apical flycatcher and grayish piculet, jet antbird, blackish rail, ruby-topaz hummingbird, and horned screamer. Along riparian areas you may find greater ani, ringed kingfisher, crested and yellow-headed caracara, red-crowned and spot-breasted woodpeckers, and cocoa woodcreeper. Greater anis are fascinating because two to four unrelated pairs form a nesting group that build a single nest in which all the females lay their eggs and raise the young communally.

After lunch, you will traverse the Cauca Valley and begin the ascent up the central Andes towards the city of Manizales in the famed Coffee Triangle.

Rio Blanco Nature Reserve

Jul 3

Chestnut-Crowned Antpitta
© Christopher Calonje

The Rio Blanco Reserve is owned by Aguas de Manizales, the local water company, and is situated along an altitudinal gradient, therefore including a wide variety of ecosystems. You could possibly observe five antpitta species including the endemic and endangered brown-banded, the elusive bicolored, the chestnut-crowned, the chestnut-naped, and the slate crowned antpittas at feeders located within a short hike from the lodge. Other feeder visitors seldom seen include slaty-backed nightingale thrush and stripe-headed brush-finch. Additional species observed in Rio Blanco include the uncommon and endangered rufous-fronted and golden-plumed parakeets and the very rare and sought-after masked saltator. Other species you may encounter at this vast reserve include tyrannine woodcreeper, golden-fronted whitestart, dusky piha, lachrymose and buff-breasted mountain-tanagers, showy grass-green and white-capped tanagers, powerful woodpecker, and the hard to see ocellated, blackish, and spillman’s tapaculos. Less common species that are possible are long-tailed lack-billed peppershrike, the handsome plushcap, red-hooded tanager, mountain cacique, and the endangered golden-plumed parakeet.

Owl’s Watch Nature Reserve

Jul 4

The Owl’s Watch Nature Reserve is located adjacent to Rio Blanco providing a great opportunity to search out any species that we may have missed at Rio Blanco. The staff there have also mastered the art of attracting birds to feeders, so it is possible to see tourmaline sunangel, buff-tailed coronet, speckled hummingbird, bronzy and collared incas, mountain velvetbreast, the tiny, slow-flying white-bellied woodstar, and the showy long-tailed sylph.

Manizales to Caldas

Jul 5

Buffy Helmetcrest
© Christopher Calonje

Hacienda El Bosque is roughly an hour drive from Manizales, so plan to get there early in time for breakfast before the amazing birding begins. The day will be spent on this working cattle farm that produces milk, whose owners have been protecting large swaths of forests and paramo ecosystems for decades. Some of your targets on this wonderful property are crescent-faced antpitta, gray-breasted mountain-toucan (comes to feeders to eat grapes), collared inca, tourmaline sunangel, buff-winged starfrontlet, mountain velvet breast, purple-backed thornbill, sword-billed hummingbird, and hooded mountain-tanager. Lunch will be at the hacienda, and you will have time for some afternoon birding before driving up the mountain to spend two nights at Hotel Termales del Ruiz, at 11,000 feet, where you can relax in its mineral-rich, medicinal hot springs and enjoy scenic views of the central Andes.

Los Nevados National Park

Jul 6

Blue-Necked Tanager
© Christopher Calonje

Explore Los Nevados National Park, located on the highest part of the Colombian central Andes. Wind through patches of forest that open to Paramo, an ecosystem of tropical grasslands above the treeline, toward the picturesque 5,300-meter (17,400-foot) volcano Nevado del Ruiz. The scenery in Paramo is magical and surreal, with velvety frailejon plants adding to this effect. Frailejon plants belong to the espeletia genus and are endemic to Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

The tour reaches elevations up to 13,000 feet, so it will be cold. Here the goal is to find species adapted to high elevations like the endemic buffy helmet crest and the near endemic rainbow-bearded thornbill, both of which sometimes forage on the ground. Also possible are viridian metal tail, stout-billed cinclodes, brown-backed chat-tyrant, the beautiful golden-crowned tanager, near endemic black-backed bush tanager, and glossy flower piercer. We may also find a variety of seedeaters in the Paramo, including plumbeous Sierra-finch plus Paramo and plain-colored seedeaters.

Los Nevados National Park to Pereira via Tinamu Nature Reserve

Jul 7

The morning is spent searching for any targets that may have been missed and enjoying the hummingbird feeders at the hotel. There is also a chance to look for the very rare and endangered endemic rufus-fronted parakeet along a two-kilometer stretch of road that passes through elfin forest, an ecosystem of dwarfed plants. You may spot the very tame tawny antpitta, a common companion in this area.

You will stop for lunch at Tinamu Lodge where some of the species include moustached puffbird, jet antbird, stripe-throated hermit, and bay-headed, blue-necked and guira tanagers. Fifteen species of hummingbirds have been observed at the lodge, including long-billed star throat, white-vented plumeteer, and Western emerald.

Otun-Quimbaya Reserve

Jul 8

Green Jay
© Christopher Calonje

The Otun-Quimbaya Reserve is a flora and fauna sanctuary located on the west slope of the Central Cordillera and is home to the wax palm, the tallest palm in the world and the national tree of Colombia. These palms, unlike most other species of palm, thrive at high altitudes and cool climates found here. You will also be received by the sounds of Howler Monkeys and the endangered, endemic Cauca guan, once believed to be extinct until rediscovery of a population in 1990. Another rare target is the endemic hooded antpitta. Otun-Quimbaya is also one of the best places in the world to observe red-ruffed fruit crow. You will search for endemics – chestnut wood-quail, recently described Stiles’s tapaculo and near endemics, like moustached antpitta, the handsome rufous-breasted flycatcher, and bright-colored golden-fronted whitestart. Other impressive birds include three-striped, russet-crowned, and Canada warblers, masked trogon, green jay, Andean motmot, blue-naped chlorophonia, and orange-bellied euphonia. You will also look for black-billed mountain toucan, chestnut-breasted wren, plumbeous-crowned tyrannulet, marble-faced and variegated bristle-tyrants, and glossy and masked flowerpiercers.

Pereira to Aruacana Lodge via National Grape Park

Jul 9

This day is devoted to traveling to the spectacular Araucana Lodge, with a stop at the Grape Park in the Cauca Valley where the main goal is to photograph ruby topaz hummingbird. The bird is attracted to the yellow flowers of the Aloe Vera plant, which is planted at the park specifically to attract this species.

Cloud Forest of KM 18 and San Antonio

Jul 10

Golden Tanager
© Christopher Calonje

Spend the day around the famous KM 18, located on a 5,900-ft (1,800-m) pass 11mi (18km) northwest of Cali, along the road that connects Cali with the port city of Buenaventura. Birding can be very productive with more than 180 species recorded in the San Antonio Forest. You’ll search for four endemics: chestnut wood-quail, Colombian chachalaca, grayish piculet, and the threatened, spectacular multicolored tanager. This area is a tanager paradise where you have a good chance to observe some stunning birds like Choco-endemic purplish-mantled, summer, golden, near-endemic scrub, metallic-green, saffron-crowned, and golden-naped tanagers as well as ashy-throated bush tanager and blue-winged mountain tanager.

You may be privileged to see an impressive show of hummingbirds at a private house along the same road including the beautifully ornate long-tailed sylph, booted rackettail, blue-headed sapphire, green violetear, fawn-breasted brilliant, speckled hummingbird, white-necked jacobin, brown violetear, and tawny-bellied hermit. Birding the forest can also produce many near endemics such as scrub tanager, purple-throated woodstar, and Nariño tapaculo.

Upper Anchicaya

Jul 11

Silver-Throated Tanager
© Christopher Calonje

Perhaps Colombia’s most famous birding location, the Anchicaya watershed is in the Farallones National Park, one of the most diverse parks on the planet. The bird¬ing begins just 30min from the hotel via a paved road that can offer many of the Choco endemics that this mega diverse locality has to offer. You will spend the day birding along the upper portion of the road.

You will devote some time to the El Descanso area where Doña Dora, displaced by war, started a small cafeteria to support her family, which she, over time, has turned into a destination for birders. You can observe many of the following in the area: rufous-throated, glis¬tening-green, and silver-throated tanagers. A day of birding on the road should yield many highly prized species including the endemic crested ant-tanager, golden-collared honeycreeper, white-whis¬kered puffbird, uniform treehunter, sooty-headed wren, green thorntail, and empress brilliant. Toucan barbet, sporting five different colors elegantly while still having a tough de¬meanor, will be one of the main targets. Don’t forget to keep scanning the skies for barred hawk, ornate hawk-eagle, and swallow-tailed kites, whilst keeping an eye out on low branches for the attractive ornate flycatcher feeding. Another target is the recently described Tatama tapaculo.

After lunch you’ll drive two hours to an Andean cock-of-the-rock lek to witness the spectacular mating rituals of these fascinating birds.

Araucana Lodge

Jul 12

Spend the day on the 30 acres of the Araucana Lodge in search of some of the targets that include species such as Parker’s antbird, grayish piculet, apical flycatcher, smoky brown woodpeck¬er, bar-crested antshrike, spectacled parrotlet, scaled antpit¬ta, crimson-rumped toucanet, Colombian chachalaca, and scale-crested pygmy-tyrant.

You will also have opportunities to explore the more than 5km of trails that wind through the pre-montane forest on the property and stroll around the organic coffee, fruit, and vegetable gardens that provide produce for your meals at the lodge.

San Cipriano Reserve

Jul 13

Broad-Billed Motmot
© Christopher Calonje

Drive for about 1.5 hours to Zaragosa, your entry point into the humid forests of the San Cipriano Reserve. Since the reserve does not have roads, access is via a pleasant ride on brujitas, which are motorcycle-powered wooden carts on rails that have been ingenuously engineered by the locals. In the heart of the Choco Bioregion, the area is known for being one of the wettest and most biodiverse on the planet. Some of the possible birds include Choco toucan, stripe-billed aracari, blue-headed parrots, spot-crowned, broad-billed motmot, pur¬ple-throated fruitcrow, and tawny-crested tanager. Also possible are near endemics: black-tipped cotinga, rose-faced parrot, and five-colored barbet.

The area is teeming with antbirds, with chances to see ocellated, jet, stub-tailed, and bicolored ant¬birds. With the high humidity and heat, you hope to find species such as Pacific and checker-throated antwrens, Pacific flatbill, cinnamon becard, thicket antpitta, black-chested puffbird, white-ringed flycatcher, blue-black grosbeak, and blue-crowned and golden-collared manakin.

Atuncella and Rio Bravo

Jul 14

Drive about 40min to visit the village of Atuncella, where a very interesting habitat exists due to a localized rain shadow. A dry forest with several endemic cactus species harbors entertaining birds such as bar-crested antshrike and striped cuckoo. Other targets of this area include pale-breasted spinetail, golden-rumped euphonia, and the endemic apical flycatcher and cocoa woodcreeper.

When it starts to warm up, you will head back to the main road for lunch and a one-hour drive to the Rio Bravo Reserve, known as one of the wettest parts of the world, where you will seek out targets such as rufus-throated tanager, purplish-mantled tanager, brown-billed scythebill, sooty-headed wren, white-winged tanager, buff-fronted foliage-gleaner, uniform antshrike, rufous-rumped antwren, cerulean warbler, and uniform treehunter.

Depart for home

Jul 15

After breakfast at the Araucana Lodge, you will be transferred to the airport for your flights home.

Colombia

Discover the remarkable variety of avian jewels in the Andes.

3.432234974562545, -76.51933267297734

Cost & Payments

Costs (in US$)

Type Cost Per Person
Trip Cost, double occupancy $5,990
Single Supplement $845

Costs are per person, double occupancy, not including airfare, singles extra. See Included and Not Included sections for more details.

If you are a single traveler, we will try to find a roommate for you, but if we cannot pair you with a roommate, we may charge you a single supplement. Single rooms cost extra and are subject to availability.


Payment Schedule

Payment Due Date Amount Per Person
Deposit Due now to reserve your space $500
Final Jaunuary 1, 2025 Remaining balance

Payments are due based on the schedule above. All reservations require a deposit to confirm reservation of your space.

Costs are per person, double occupancy, not including airfare, singles extra. See Included and Not Included sections for more details.


Cancellations

Until the Final Payment due date, deposits are refundable except for a cancellation fee of $150 per person, which can be applied toward another trip if reserved within six months of the cancelled trip’s departure date. Cancellations are non-transferrable. No refunds are given after the Final Payment due date.

Included

  • Carbon offsets for the duration of this trip.
  • All leaders, transport, park entry fees, landing fees, and permits for all activities unless described as optional.
  • Accommodations (double occupancy) for the nights of July 1 through July 14.
  • Meals from dinner on July 1 through breakfast on July 15.
  • Purified water at the lodge to refill your water bottle.
  • Juice during every meal.
  • Soda and beer at restaurants.
  • Transfers between the Cali airport and Hotel Guadalajara and between the Araucana Lodge and the Cali airport regardless of the day.
  • Trip Planning Materials – information about entry requirements, flights, packing, gratuities, etc.

Not Included

  • Carbon offsets for your flights to/from this trip.
  • All airfare, airport and departure taxes, and excess baggage fees. Round-trip airfare is approximately $500 to $850 between the US and Cali, depending on origin.
  • Passport and visa fees.
  • COVID tests.
  • Extra hotel nights.
  • Gratuities – tipping is always discretionary. However, we suggest budgeting about $25 to $35 per participant per day for 15 days for our main leader, local leaders, and lodge staff (about $375 to $525 total per participant).
  • Emergency evacuation insurance and trip cancellation insurance.
  • Items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone calls, medical costs or hospitalization, room service, items not on the regular menu, etc. If you have special dietary needs, please indicate them on your Traveler Form.

Climate

The climate has been variable over the last few years. But generally, temperatures will be hot and humid in the lowlands (70°F at night to 85°F during the day) and comfortable in the highlands (60°F at night to 70°F during the day), but it can be quite chilly at high elevations where you should plan to wear layers.

Fitness Level

This trip involves ascending from the lowlands to an elevation above 10,000ft.  There will be time to acclimate, but if you have heart or lung disease, or any other reason to suspect that high altitude may pose a problem for you, please speak with your doctor before booking this trip. Walks are not strenuous, but the elevation may make them feel more difficult while in the Central Andes. In the lower elevation, the cock-of-the-rock lek requires a 15-minute hike down and a 25-minute hike up on a trail in good condition. The days in Sanso Lagoon and San Cipriano require 2 to 3-mile hikes and are hot and humid. Please contact us if you have any health concerns that may make this trip challenging.

Flights

Detailed logistical information is included in the Trip Planning Materials we will send you.

Flights you book

  • Arrive in Cali, Colombia (CLO) by 3:00pm on July 1.
  • Depart from Cali, Colombia (CLO) after 10:00am on July 15.

FAQ

Accommodations

Motion Sickness

Transportation

You’ll drive to each location in a modified, 15-passenger Mercedes Sprinter or Volkswagen Crafter. In the San Cipriano Reserve, you will ride in brujitas, which are motorcycle-powered wooden carts on rails that have been ingenuously engineered by the locals.

Conservation

Our company ethos has always regarded conservation as inseparable from responsible tourism. We struggle with the dilemma that traveling worldwide expends climate-changing carbon. However, we wholeheartedly believe that traveling with us will cultivate your passion for conserving our beautiful world while stimulating each destination’s local economy. We encourage you to explore the various ways in which Cheesemans’ operates within this context:

Conditions

Read our current Terms and Conditions.